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"GANGA" is not for sale

Suez - Degrémont and
the Privatization of Ganga Water

by Vandana Shiva, Afsar H. Jafri, Kunwar Jalees
New Delhi, India

On August 9th, 2002, on the eve of the Quit India Day, more than 5000 farmers of Muradnagar and adjoining areas of western Uttar Pradesh gathered in a Rally at Village Bhanera to protest the laying of a giant 3.25 meters-diameter pipeline to supply the water from the River Ganga to the Sonia Vihar Water Plant for Delhi. The project, which has been contracted to Suez-Ondeo Degrémont of France by the Government of Delhi, will deprive the richest farmlands of India of irrigation water.

The Descent of the Ganges

This legend relates to the descent of the River Ganga from the heavens into the earth.

The ruler of Ayodhya, King Sagar, an ancestor of Rama, of the solar race performed the Aswamedha Sacrifice 99 times, where each time, the horse that he sent around the earth, returned to his kingdom unchallenged. Indra the King of Gods, in an act of jealousy, kidnapped and hid the horse in the hermitage of Kapila Muni - when the 100th sacrifice was being performed.

The sixty thousand sons of Kapila came to the hermitage of Kapila in their search for the horse, and mistaking Kapila Muni to be the abductor, attacked him. An enraged Kapila Muni burnt the 60000 princes to ashes.

One of the grandchildren of King Sagar, hearing about the plight of his father and uncles, came in search of Kapila Muni and asked him for a solution to the problem, and was advised that the waters of the River Ganga would miraculously bring back the dead princes to life.

His descendant Bhagirathi, continued his efforts to bring the Ganga to the earth from the heavens to purify the ashes of his ancestors and bring them back to life. Bhagirata's prayers were rewarded and the Ganges rushed to the earth; however, the might of the river was too much for the earth to withstand. Fearing a catastrophe, Bhagirata prayed to Shiva, who held out his matted hair to catch the river as she descended, and thus softened her journey to the earth.

Bhagiratha patiently led the river down to the sea from the Himalayas; however, being unable to locate the exact spot where the ashes lay, he requested Ganga to follow her own course. The Ganga, therefore in the region of Bengal, divided herself into a hundred mouths and formed the Ganges delta.

The Sonia Vihar water treatment plant, which was inaugurated on June 21, 2002 by the Chief Minister of Delhi, is designed for a capacity of 635 million liters a day on a 10 year BOT (build-operate-transfer) basis, at a cost of 1.8 billion rupees (approx. 50 million dollars). The contract between Delhi Jal Board (the Water Supply Department of the Delhi Government) and the French company Ondeo Degrémont (subsidiary of Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux Water Division - the water giant of the world), is supposed to provide safe drinking water for the city.

The water for the Suez-Degrémont plant in Delhi will come from Tehri Dam through the Upper Ganga Canal up to Muradnagar in Western Uttar Pradesh (UP) and then through the giant pipeline to Delhi. The Upper Ganga Canal, which starts at Haridwar and carries the holy water of Ganga up to Kanpur via Muradnagar, is the main source of irrigation for this region.

The 9th August Rally at Bhanera village was the culmination of the 300 kilometer-long mobilization drive along the Ganga by the farmers of Garhwal and inhabitants of the devastated city of Tehri to liberate the river from being privatized. The rally was launched from Haridwar - one of the oldest and holiest cities of India built on the banks of Ganga - where hundreds of farmers, together with priests, citizens and worshippers of Ganga announced that "Ganga is not for Sale", and vowed to defend the freedom of this holy river. Thousands of farmers and others in villages along the route joined the rally to declare that they would never allow Suez to take over Ganga waters.

The rallyists joined more than 300 people from across the country, representing over a hundred grassroots groups intellectuals, writers and lawyers, at the 3-day Convention on Earth Democracy - People's Rights to Natural Resources, organized by Navdanya from 10th to 12th August 2002, at Indian Social Institute, New Delhi. The Convention sought to provide evidence of the state's violent appropriation of people's land, water and biodiversity, and evolve common action plans and strategies to defend collective community rights to resources.

"There is only one struggle left - the struggle for the right to life", said Magasaysay Award willing writer Mahaswheta Devi. Eminent author Arundhati Roy and eminent scientist Vandana Shiva stressed the urgent need to take collective united action to defend people's rights to land, water and biodiversity.

State appropriates people’s resources for corporate profits

The farmers of western Uttar Pradesh, Tehri and Muradnagar are not the only ones whose local common resource are being appropriated by the state, to be handed over to corporations for making corporate profits. All over India, such appropriation of people's natural resources is taking place, often accompanied by state violence, as a result of unethical practices of globalization being pushed through the dictates of the World Bank (WB), International Monetary fund (IMF) and World Trade Organization (WTO). Globalization for the large majority of the poor in India has meant losing what they have in the form of water, land and biodiversity through transferring the common property of the villagers and tribals to global corporations. This is being achieved through water privatization, patent regimes and creating new property rights to biodiversity and new genetic materials, liberalization and corporatization of agriculture and liberalization of investment which is alienating land from the poorest in total violation of the Indian Constitution which guarantee's human rights and natural rights.

The Haridwar Declaration

Today, the 8th of August 2002, on the eve of the 60th Anniversary of the “Quit India Movement”, we all have gathered here to pledge that:

We will never let the river Ganga be sold to any multinational corporations. Ganga is revered as a mother (Ganga Maa) and prayed to and on its banks important ceremonies starting from birth till death are performed (according to Hindu religious practices). We will never allow our mother or its water to be sold to Suez-Degrémont or any other corporations.

The sacred waters of the Ganga cannot be the property of any one individual or a company. Our mother Ganga is not for Sale.

We boycott the commodification and privatization of the Ganga and any other water resources.

We pledge to conserve and judiciously use our regional water resources to save our environment and ecology, so that we would gift our coming generation a clean and beautiful environment as well as safeguard their right to water resources.

We pledge and declare that the local community will have the right over the local water resources. It is the duty of the local community to conserve and sensibly utilize their resources. Anyone from outside the community whether an individual, an organization or a corporation have to take the permission of the Gram Sabha for utilizing these resources.

The river Ganga was brought upon the face of earth by Bhagirath through his yagna (prayers) to sustain the existence of life on Earth. The Ganga is now intrinsic to our cultural and a part of our heritage and our civilization. Our life and progress over the millennia has been dependent upon the sacred waters of Ganga. We will fight any multinational company trying to take away our right to life by privatizing Ganga waters.

The "Water Liberation Movement" will continue till we liberate the sacred waters of Ganga from the clutches of corporations, like Suez-Ondeo Degrémont.

Reckless privatization and appropriation of water is robbing people of water, the very basis of life. The New Water Policy is centered around water privatization. In Kerala 300 adivasis of the Coca-Cola Virudha Samara Samithy (Anti Coca-Cola Struggle Committee) were arrested at a mass rally at Plachimada on 4 August 2002. The people were protesting Coca Cola's takeover of common water resources of the village for its water bottling plant. The company has been drawing 15 lakh liters of water per day, which has dried the aquifers within 2 years and has polluted the water.

The water scarcity has hit the local Adivasi and Dalit community the hardest. The adivasis are asserting their primary rights to water and demanding that the Coca-Cola restore the environment, pay compensation, dose down the factory and quit the country. In another instance, Coca-Cola is also sucking about 200 cusecs of water every day through four - 20 inches pipes in Khichri Village near NTPC in Ghaziabad for its Kinley brand. Due to this the water level in this region has gone down by 10 feet.

It is also known that Coca-Cola factories at Nemam (Madurai), Athur (Chennai), in Thane District, Khammam in Andhra etc have created similar problems. The problem is not isolated nor exclusively to Coca-Cola alone, but is repeated wherever water resources have been handed over to corporations who are overexploiting it.

Suez-Degrémont Water Plant at Sonia Vihar

Ondeo Degrémont, a subsidiary of Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux Water Division, has been awarded a 2 billion rupees contract (almost 50 million dollars) for the design, building and operation (for 10 years) of a 635 million liters/day Drinking Water Production Plant at Sonia Vihar in New Delhi to cater 3 million inhabitants of the capital.

Won through the collaboration of all the Group companies, within the context of an international call for tenders, this 2 billion rupees contract is the first contract of this size in India, after Bombay, for Degrémont.

World leader in water treatment engineering, Ondeo Degrémont has a turnover of 810 million euros in 1999 and it is present in more than 70 countries with 3,600 employees while Suez operates in 130 counties in all five continents. Out of the 30 water contracts awarded by the big cities as on 1990's water privatization drive, 20 went to the Suez (

Degrémont, on its web site, proudly state "today, the support of Suez enables Degrémont to use its know-how throughout the world: pumping water, treating and transporting it, collecting, treating and controlling the pollution of waste water are some of the company's oldest skills. This support results in a combination of technical experience and reassuring financial basis, which can be made available to fund construction and operating contracts".

Uneven Distribution of Drinking Water in Delhi

The per capita daily water supply should be at least 150 liters as per the standards set by the Central Public Health and Environment Engineering Organization of the Union Urban Development Ministry, Govt. of India.

Despite DJB claim of equal allocation of water, supply of drinking water in the Capital is characterized by vastly unequal distribution, with posh colonies and VIP areas getting several times more than the supply given to rural areas and resettlement colonies.

A recent report reveals that people in Mehrauli and Narela receive only 29 and 31 liters per person per day respectively, those in the Cantonment Board get 509 liters and Lutyen's Delhi 462 liters, The Karol Bagh zone receives 337 liters per person per day. It is also estimated that unless the depleted water table in Mehrauli is maintained or replenished, Mehrauli will experience desertification within the next ten years.

Construction of the giant 3.2 meter-diameter pipe on a stretch of 30 kilometers from Muradnagar to Sonia Vihar is going on and till date, about 10 kilometers of the pipeline has been laid down.The disastrous impact of this project on the farmers of Western UP is evident from the fact that this area is totally dependent upon the canal for irrigation. Even before being operationalised to divert 630 million liters water/day from irrigation, farmers are already feeling the impact of corporate greed for profits - the Upper Ganga Canal is being lined to prevent seepage into the neighboring fields (an important source of moisture for farming) and recharge of ground water, and farmers are being prevented from digging wells even as they are reeling under severe drought.

The lining of the canal to prevent recharging of groundwater has terrified the farmers of the whole region of western UP. At a meeting organized by Navdanya on 21st July at Chaprauli, the land of Choudhury Charan Singh, ex-Prime Minister, farmers stated, "we will not allow the Canal to be lined and supply water to Delhi. Instead the government should link the Upper Ganga Canal to the Yamuna Canal passing through this area to tackle the severe drought."

Who is paying for corporate profits?

Privatization of water has been justified on the ground that full cost must be paid when water giants get water markets whereas with water privatization they demand a full price from the people. However, as the case of the Delhi Water plant shows, the corporations get the water for free without paying for full social and environmental cost to those rural communities from whom the water is taken.

The country has got into huge debt for the loans taken from World Bank for the Ganga Canal. At the same time the giant 3.25 meter-diameter pipe is being built through public finances. In effect the public pays the price while transnational companies make the profit.

Private Public Partnership is the buzzword in the water privatization. They are also the dominant theme on the up coming World Summit for Sustainable Development at Johannesburg, 10 years after the Rio Summit. Delhi water privatization is a clear example that shows that private public partnership in water amount to public cost and private gain. Delhi Jal Board's proposal to meet the needs of the entire population of Delhi includes activities centered around the public-private partnerships models as propagated by the World Bank, with an emphasis on commercialization and cost recovery.

Sale of River Bhavani

The Ganga is not the only river whose water is being privatized to satisfy corporate greed. River Bhavani - an important tributary of Cauvery has been sold by the Tamil Nadu government to Kinley - the brand name under which Coca-Cola sells bottled drinking water. This sale has been effected by the government even while the state is reeling under severe drought, ground water levels have reached depths of over 1,000 ft., and water riots and water-related murders have become an everyday occurrence.

The sale of the river, which was a major source of water for the people of the region, has been routed through Poonam Beverages, a new firm belonging to the Coimbatore-based Annapooma Hotels, who will draw 1,00,000 day/day to supply it to Kinley, Coca Cola's bottled water. The annual fees that Poonam Beverage has paid the government is a mere Rs. 5,00,000, for which hundreds of thousands of people are being denied a vital resource, that is their natural right, and without which they cannot survive.

The enforced process of decentralization is turning developing countries economies into lucrative markets for construction and design firms who are seeing business boom from funds earmarked for development projects. With World Bank's and other international financial institutions' funds earmarked for water infrastructure investment, in the form of BOT (Build, Operate, Transfer), BOOT and BDO (Build, Design, Operate), India is a buoyant market. The World Bank even states that it can help increase the international revenues of companies whose activities include wastewater management, via the ‘UN Development Business’ bank.

Delhi Jal Board (DJB) claims that they have no intention of raising the water rates for the time being. However, as has been seen in the case of Enron with electricity, the Orissa Lift Irrigation Corporation in Orissa, and other cases, privatization leads very quickly to a steep rise in the price of water and electricity. With regards to concession to the poor, DJB said there would be no such proposal. DJB will continue to deliver the water to Delhites and maintain infrastructure i.e. burst water pipes, billing etc. Thus the people of Delhi will not just be paying Suez and the Jal Board for the water directly, they will be paying through taxes to maintain the infrastructure, thus freeing the corporation of any expenses which might detract from their profits.

Water Requirement and Sources of Water in Delhi

Delhi is experiencing increasing pressure to meet demand for its water resources. Growing urbanization, improvements in living standards, exploding population are just some of the contributing factors. The population of Delhi is expected to cross 15 million by the end of 2002. The city, at the moment, requires 3,324 million liters of water a day (MLD) while what it gets stands closer to 2,034 MLD. Average water consumption in Delhi is estimated at being 240 liters per capita per day (lpcd), the highest in the country. The large-scale extraction of groundwater is a result of this widening gap between the demand and supply of water. And still worse, serious doubts are also being raised about both the quality and quantity of groundwater.

Delhi receives its water from 3 sources:

  • A. Surface Water. 86% of Delhi's total water supply comes from surface water, namely the Yamuna River, which equals 4.6% of this resource through interstate agreements.
  • B. Sub-surface -- Ranney wells and tubewells. This source, which is met through rainfall (approx. 611.8 mm in 27 rainy days), and unutilized rainwater runoff, is 193 MCM (million cubic meters).
  • C. Graduated Resources. It is estimated at 292 MCM, however current withdrawal equals 312 MCM. Salinity and over exploitation has contributed to depletion and drastically effected the availability of water in different parts of the city ( However, according to a report released by the Central Ground Water Board (GCWB), Delhi's ground-water level has gone down by about eight meters in the last 20 years at the rate of about a foot a year.

Apart from groundwater, Delhi gets its water from the Ganga Canal, the western Yamuna canal, the Bhakra canal and the Yamuna.

To see a larger version of this chart - click here.
Delhi’s water and wastewater management is controlled by the Delhi Jal Board (DJB), which has signed the contract with Suez Degremont. With the demand-supply gap projections for water set to increase in the next ten years, DJB have identified new raw water sources including Tehri, Renukal, Kishau Lahawar dams. Plans also center on the construction of new and existing sewage treatment plants (STPs) which will enable an increase in treatment capacity. Rainwater harvesting is another option that DJB is considering.

Corruption in Delhi Jal Board's Suez Degrémont Plant

The process for allotment of contract for the Sonia Vihar Plant to Ondeo Degrémont has not been without controversy and objections by senior DJB members. Of the 3 companies that bid for the tender, Ondeo Degrémont was chosen despite being higher in cost than the two other contenders, and allegedly an inferior technology. It was also known that Ondeo Degrémont had already experienced problems with previous contracts in Surat and Delhi (Ohkla) where they were 2 years behind in the project.

Jagdish Anand, a member of the Opposition party, has accused senior politicians of trying to bribe him into silence. “Earlier also I had exposed the irregularities committed by the Jal Board and its officials with regard to the allotment of Sonia Vihar 140 MGD (million gallons a day) plant ... (they) approached me on more than one occasion. They independently requested me not to expose the working of the Delhi Jal Board.... They also tried to tempt me with suitable reward and my adjustment in lieu of my not exposing the irregularities being committed by Delhi Jal Board....” (The Hindu, New Delhi, Nov. 28).

Yet another accusation was against the politicians and senior DJB members of pushing through a contract to Larsen and Toubro for laying of water pipeline in Sonia Vihar at a cost that was approx. Rs 30 crore more than the justified amount. The clear water transmission mains will supply water from Sonia Vihar Water Treatment Plant to different parts of Trans-Yamuna-Delhi.

Former mayors of Delhi Yog Dhyan Ahuja and Shakuntala Arya (both members of D]B) said that though the appropriate amount for laying the 33.94X km long water pipeline within Delhi was about Rs X5 crore the contract has been awarded for Rs 111.31 crore.

Out of the four firms that were short listed, two did not even submit their tenders and the lowest tender bid was as high as Rs 14X crore. Though a final offer of Rs 111.31 crore was made by Larsen and Toubro only on February 27, 2001, the technical committee had already given its approval a month earlier.

Destruction of Tehri for Water Supply to Delhi

To see a larger version of this diagram - click here.

Ganga's waters, the lifeline of northern India and India’s food security, are being handed over to Suez to quench the thirst of Delhi’s elite even as a hundred thousand people are forcefully and violently removed from their homes in Tehri for the Tehri Dam.

Tehri, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Garhwal on the banks of the Ganga in the Himalayas, is in the process of being submerged as the tunnels of the controversial Tehri Dam are being closed. More than a hundred thousand people have been displaced by the dam, costing thousands of crores. In 1994, a budget of Rs. 6000 crores had been earmarked for it. The figure must have escalated substantially since then.

The main stream of the region's Bhagirathi River reversed the direction of its flow after officials shut the gates of two water tunnels.

Tehri's main town is located uncomfortably close to the swelling waters, which have already submerged parts of the town. The only bridge linking the old town with the new, and the rest of the country, is almost submerged under rising waters. The people of Tehri say dam authorities have stopped the river's natural flow to intimidate them into leaving without staking a claim to a rehabilitation package. The 200-year old town of Tehri is expected to be totally submerged by November 2002. Incidentally this part of Uttaranchal's Garhwal region is often referred to as 'Devbhumi' or the "Abode of the Gods".

The Tehri dam project was first conceived in 1949 and was sanctioned by the Planning Commission in 1972. It is located in the outer Himalaya in the Tehri- Garhwal district of Uttaranchal. It is planned to be the fifth highest dam in the world - 260.5 meters high and spread over an area of 45 square kilometers in the Bhagirathi and Bhilangana valleys near Tehri town. The dam will submerge 4200 hectares of the most fertile flat land in the Bhagirathi and Bhilangana valleys without really benefiting the region in any way.

Ever since the dam was sanctioned in 1972, local people have been opposing the dam and offering resistance to its construction. Many scientists and environmentalists have pointed out the grave risks involved in building this dam in a highly earthquake-prone zone. But the government dismisses these allegations of risk, saying that all those who oppose the Tehri dam are "anti-development".

Tehri Dam built in a seismic fault zone

The huge Tehri dam is located in a seismic fault zone. This area is earthquake prone. Between 1816 and 1991, the Garhwal region has witnessed 17 earthquakes, the recent one being the Uttarkashi earthquake of October 1991 and the Chamoli earthquake of 1998.

The International Commission on Large Dams has declared the site ''extremely hazardous".

Geological surveyors have assessed that some of the mountains near the dam are very unstable because they do not have any vegetation cover. In case the dam collapses due to an earthquake or any other fault, the devastation will be unimaginable. The huge reservoir built at such a height will be emptied in 22 minutes. Within 60 minutes Rishikesh will be under 260 meters of water. Soon after Haridwar will be totally submerged under 232 meters with the next 23 minutes. Bijnor, Meerut, Hapur and Bulandshahar will be under water within 12 hours (Sunderlal Bahuguna). Thus the dam is potentially dangerous for large parts of north-western India, and large areas in the Gangetic plains could be devastated in the event of a mishap. It is also estimated that the life of the dam could not be more than 30 years because of heavy sedimentation. So far as the electricity generation is concerned. Is it worthwhile to have a dam spanning 30 years with so much ecological instability and uneconomic viability?

Moreover, with the building of the dam, the River Ganga will become a dead river. Ganga is not just any river; it is a unique symbol of our ancient civilization and culture. Ganga water has the quality of remaining fresh for many years and is, therefore, part of many sacred rituals, including the pouring of a few drops of Ganga Jal into the mouth of a dying person. People come from all-over the country to perform asthi pravah in the Ganga at Haridwar. Once the Ganga is made to flow through tunnels dammed at Tehri (and also at Bhaironghati Thala dam), this sacred river will soon lose the quality of freshness and purity it is mainly revered for.

Ganga at a Glance

Length: 2,525 sq. km
Source: Gaumukh (Gangotri glacier) at 4,100 metres above MSL.
Ganga Basin: more than one million sq. km (1,060,000 sq. km)
Drainage area: 861,404 sq. km (26.2 percent of India’s total geographical area)
Break up:
Uttar Pradesh: 294,413 sq km
Madhya Pradesh: 201,705 sq. km
Bihar: 144,410 sq. km
Rajasthan: 107,382 sq. km
West Bengal: 72,010 sq. km
Haryana: 34,200 sq. km
Himachal Pradesh: 5,799 sq. km
Delhi: 1,485 sq. km
TOTAL: 861,404 sq. km

Annual flow: 468.7 billion cubic metres (25.2 percent of India’s total water resources)
Flow at Rishikesh: 27 billion cubic metres of water.
Important stations on the Ganga and distance from source:
Rishikesh 250 km,
Balawali 330 km,
Garhmukteshwar 440 km,
Kachla Bridge 510 km,
Fatehgarh 670 km,
Kanpur 800 km,
Allahbad 1050 km,
Mirzapur 1170 km,
Varanasi 1295 km,
Buxar 1430 km,
Patna 1600 km,
Baharampur 2175 km,
Nabadwip 2285 km

The Tehri Dam is being built to provide water to the tentacled megapolis of Delhi. The Tehri Dam disaster is a microcosm of a violent process which in the name of development, displaces sustainable communities and destroys their sustainable lifestyles, converting them into environmental refugees who are forced to migrate to large cities and urban settlements.

However a report by the World Commission on Dams (WCD), published in November 2000, alleges that "few dams have ever been looked at to see if the benefits - outweigh the costs". According to the UK's New Scientist magazine, these costs include social upheaval, increased flooding, damage to farmland and the extinction of freshwater fish species. The WCD report also observes that dams cause ecological damage and exacerbate flooding, and that many deliver less than half the amount of water expected. The World Bank, the sponsor of the study, is not learning any lessons of the WCD report.

Ironically, the disaster management plan submitted by Tehri Project authorities states that Tehri dam has no built-in provision for providing protection against floods and that flood management of the down-stream area is not the direct responsibility of the project authorities.

Since 10% of the dams in India and abroad have failed or collapsed, it is therefore important to make the dam break analysis and disaster management reports mandatory. In fact, the disaster management report submitted to the Union Ministry of Environment by the project authorities clearly emphasizes the need for such reports. Further the Union Ministry of Environment in their conditional clearance insisted on the preparation of such a report in consultation with the people likely to be affected in case of a major accident. However, such a report has not yet been prepared and the safety of the Tehri project have not been properly assessed.

Despite all these huge costs to the people and the government exchequer, Suez-Degrémont is not paying any of the social, ecological or financial cost for the construction of Tehri Dam. Rather it will get free water and will sell it to the people of Delhi at a very high cost.

Gangotri glacier recedes fast helping Suez to cash water

"Glaciers in most areas of the world are known to be receding," said Kargel, an international coordinator for Global Land Ice Measurements from Space (GLIMS), USA. "But glaciers in the Himalaya are wasting at alarming and accelerating rates, as indicated by comparisons of satellite and historic data, and as shown by the widespread, rapid growth of lakes on the glacier surfaces."

The Gangotri glacier between Kashmir and Nepal is retreating at an accelerated rate. The Gangotri glacier-and many others-feed the Ganga River Basin, upon which hundreds of millions of people, including those in New Delhi and Calcutta, depend for fresh water. The glacier, spread over an area of 260, is of great significance for maintaining the water balance in north India.

Observations on the retreat of the Gangotri go back to 1842, and between 1842 and 1935 the snout of the Gangotri glacier was receding at an average rate of 7.3 m a year.

Indian scientists echoed the same in Current Science January 2001 issue. A group of geologists from HNB Garhwal University, who conducted the study revealed that the retreat has become much faster than it was before 1971. Reporting their findings the scientists say that data for the last six decades - 1936 to 1996, clearly show that the glacier had receded by 1,147 m, with the regression assuming alarming proportions particularly over the last 25 years. It has retreated by more than 850 m between 1971 and 1996 alone, as against a total of 2000 m in the last 200 years. The study has also found out significant changes in the shape and position of the glacier, which is 30 km long and with a width varying from 0.5 to 2.5 km. In May and June 1999, the scientists found that the glacier's snout changed its shape every day, with huge blocks of ice getting detached on a daily basis.

The findings of HNB Garhwal University scientists are based on investigations over three and a half years, between May 1996 and October 1999. The aim of the Garhwal University group was to establish evidence for the increased rate of retreat seen in the earlier data sets of other research groups in terms of the geomorphological characteristics of the glacier.

However, some of the regular visitors to Gangotri have also observed the same. According to them the 26-km-long Gangotri glacier in Uttaranchal has been shrinking by about 18 metres a year. Swami Sundaranand, a priest and ecologist, who has lived alongside Gangotri for over half a century is one of the first to point out that Gangotri Glacier is retreating. "Over the past five years or so, the Gangotri glacier has annually receded at a rate of nearly 10 metres'', said the Swami.

Geologists do not rule out the possibility of the holiest and greatest of all Indian rivers, Ganga, doing a vanishing act in coming years. If the glacier could recede two kilometers over some 150 years, the future may be gloomy for the mother of all Indian rivers.

According to climatologists, mountain glaciers, such as those in the Himalayas, are particularly sensitive indicators of climate change. While ice reflects the sun's rays, lake water absorbs and transmits heat more efficiently to the underlying ice, kicking off a feedback that creates further melting. According to a 2001 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, scientists estimate that surface temperatures could rise by 1.4°C to 5.8°C by the end of the century. The researchers have found a strong correlation between increasing temperatures and glacier retreat - ( - 29 May 2002).

Glacier changes in the next 100 years could significantly affect agriculture, water supplies, hydroelectric power, transportation, mining, coastlines, and ecological habitats. Melting ice may cause both serious problems and, for the short term in some regions, helpful increases in water availability, but all these impacts will change with time. This would only benefit Suez Degrémont which would encash the increased flow of water in the Ganga and diverting them to Delhi through Upper Ganga Canal for selling it to elite Delhities.

Not only the Gangotri Glacier but also several other Himalayan glaciers are melting fast. The melting glaciers of Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal have rung alarm bells among environmentalists. They fear this might result in unprecedented floods and thereafter acute water scarcity in the plains.

The Bara Shigri glacier in Himachal Pradesh and the Pindari glacier in Uttaranchal are shrinking at an alarming rate of about 36 metres and 135 metres per year. The deep cracks in the Chhota Shigri glacier of Himachal indicate that it was receding. Studies indicate that it was shrinking by 6.7 metres per year and the Trilokinath glacier was receding by 15.4 metres. The size of the Bara Shigri glacier reduced by 650 metres between 1997-1995, while the Trilokinath glacier got reduced by 400 metres between 1969 to 1995.

Despite a severe winter in 1997, the 5-km-long Dokriani Bamak glacier in Himachal Pradesh shrunk by 20 metres, while its average melting rate had been 16.5 metres a year. The glacier might soon vanish in the case it continues to melt.

Studies have indicated that almost all 335 glaciers in the Sutlej, Beas and Spiti basins were receding. These have created artificial lakes which might cause floods in the low-lying areas (Source: The Tribune Online Edition, 26 May 2001).

Impact of Water Diversion on Agriculture and Food Security

Water is a prime resource that fulfills a number of significant functions. It can be used lavishly or efficiently, but cannot be replaced. It is an indispensable, finite and vulnerable resource. Virtually no activity in society or process in the landscape or in the environment would be possible in the absence of water.

India is one of the few countries in the world endowed with abundant land and water resources. Water is basically required for domestic consumption and agriculture. Apart from this water is used by industries. Diverting water from domestic and agriculture to industries poses serious problems. Presently per capita availability is about 2300M3/p/year, which is going to decline 1400M3/p/year by the year 2050.

Of the 187 MHM (million hectare metres) of water 60 MHM of the surface water and 43.2 MHM of ground water are available for use. The present utility is about 60 MHM for various purposes.

Since the population is likely to stabilize at a maximum of 1640 million by 2050, the country will have to plan for increasing the food grain production from the current level of 200 MT to 450-500 MT by 2050. Also the production of vegetables and fruits should be increased as the production at present is not even sufficient to the minimum requirements of the people. To achieve the objectives, the current irrigation potential of 96.9 Mha (million hectares) (gross area) will have to be increased to about 140 Mha.

Water Requirements for Different Crops

The plant roots suck or extract water from the soil to live and grow. The main part of this water does not remain in the plant, but escapes to the atmosphere as vapor through the plant's leaves and stem. This process is called transpiration. Transpiration happens mainly during daytime. Water from an open water surface escapes as vapor to the atmosphere during the day. The same happens to water on the soil surface as to water on the leaves and stem of a plant. This process is called evaporation.

The water need of a crop thus consists of transpiration plus evaporation. Therefore, the crop water is used for "evapotranspiration".

The water need of a crop is usually expressed in mm/day, mm/month or mm/season, or cm/hectare.

Suppose the water need of a certain crop in a very hot, dry climate is 10 mm/day. This means that each day the crop needs a water layer of 10 mm over the whole area on which the crop is grown. This means that this 10 mm has to be supplied by rain or irrigation every day.

There is a large variation of the total growing period not only between crops, but also within one crop type. In general, it can be assumed that the growing period for a certain crop is longer when the climate is cool and shorter when the climate is warm.

Upper Ganga Canal: the lifeline of Western U.P.

Facts about Upper Ganga Canal
  • Work on the canal started in -- 1837 A.D.
  • Canal completed in -- 1855 A.D.
  • Total years to complete the canal -- 18
  • Initial capacity -- 6750 cusecs
  • Enhanced capacity (1951) -- 10500 cusecs
  • Total length -- 189 miles (304 km)
  • Total length of the channels -- 2650 km
  • Area irrigated by the canal -- 9.28 hectares
  • Districts irrigated by the canal -- 13 districts (Hardwar, Roorkee, Saharanpur, Muzaffar Nagar, Meerut, Ghaziabad, Gautam Budh Nagar, Bulandshar, Aligarh, Mathura, Hathras, Mainpuri and Etah district)
Upper Ganga Canal is one of the oldest canals in Western U.P. Initial discharge of water in the canal was 6750 cusecs, which was later increased to 10500 cusecs. The length of the canal is about 304 km. and it irrigates about 9.24 lac hectares of land in Hardwar, Roorkee, Saharanpur, Muzaffar Nagar, Meerut, Ghaziabad, Gautam Budh Nagar, Bulandshar, Aligarh, Mathura, Hathras, Mainpuri and Etah.

As said earlier the 635 million liters daily (MLD) of Ganga water will be diverted from the Upper Ganga Canal to Delhi, which would affect the agriculture potential of the canal and the food security of the region where the canal had been irrigating since more than one century.

Some of the major crops in the area, which is irrigated by Upper Ganga Canal are Wheat, Rice (Basmati), Rice (Coarse), Sugarcane, Maize, Potato, Gram and others.

Briefly, the water requirement for cultivation of any crop and its productivity depends on several factors, such as

  • a. Climatic conditions
  • b. Soil composition
  • c. Micro Nutrients in the Soil
  • d. Temperature variations
  • e. Variety of the crops (High yield variety needs more water)
  • f. Application of fertilizers.

According to experts, it is a complicated procedure to calculate this water requirement for any crop, however an effort has been made to estimate the water requirement to grow different crops on the land irrigated by Upper Ganga Canal. The water requirement to grow 1 kg. of a particular crop would facilitate to estimate the implications on agriculture sustainability if water (6350 lac liters per day) is drawn from Upper Ganga Canal at Muradnagar.

Water Needs for Different Crops in the region

  • 1 kg. of Basmati Rice requires 4200 liters
  • 1 kg. of coarse rice (long duration) requires 2500 liters
  • 1 kg. of coarse rice (short duration) requires 2250 liters
  • 1 kg. Wheat requires 700 liters of water.
  • 1 kg. of potatoes require 240 liters

i) Water Requirement to grow wheat in Western UP & Delhi = 30-35 cm
-- (6-7 irrigation 5 cm per irrigation)
ii) For rice (Basmati) = 140-160 cm
iii) Rice (coarse) = 120-150 cm
iv) Maize = 30 cm
v) Potato = 60 cm


1 Hectare = 2.46 Acre
1 Acre = .405 hec
1 Acre = 4000 sqm
1 hec = 1/.405
= 2.46 x 4000 = 9840 sqm
or 1 hec = 10000 sqm (approx.)


1 hec = 100 x 100 m2
or 1 hec = 100 x 100 x 100 x 100 cm2

Volume of Water = 100 x 100 x 100 x 100 x 35 (C.C)

or Volume of water= (100 x 100 x 100 x 100 x 35 liters)/1000 = 3500000 liter per hec

Average yield of wheat = 50 quintal per hectare (approx.)

Therefore water requirement per quintal = 3500000/50 = 70000 liters.

Water requirement for wheat per kilogram 3500000/(50 x 100) = 700 liters

or 700 liters water is required to grow = 1 kg of wheat

or 70,000 liters water is needed for = 1 quintal (100 kg.) of wheat

or 7,00,000 = 1 ton

Water Requirement for Rice

Similarly we may calculate the water requirement to grow rice.

  • Water requirement for rice (Basmati) = 140 -160 cm per hectare
    Average yield of rice Basmati = 35 quintal per hectare
    (4200 liters of water is needed to grow 1 kg of basmati rice)
  • Water requirement for lice (Coarse) = 120 -150 cm per hectare (short duration)
    Average yield of rice Coarse = 60 quintal per hectare
    (2250 liters of water is needed to grow, 1 kg of rice (Coarse) (short duration)
  • Water requirement for rice (Coarse) = 140 -160 cm per hectare (long duration)
    Average yield of rice Coarse = 60 quintal per hectare
    (2500 liters of water is required to grow one kg. Coarse rice of long duration)

What does diverting water to Delhi mean for National Food Security?

The annual water diverted to Delhi from the Upper Ganga Canal at the rate of 635 million liters per day will result in critical reduction in the production of food crops in the region, and thus possible destruction of national food security.

This massive diversion of water would have produced in a year

  • 3310550 quintals of wheat
  • 551150 quintals of rice (Basmati)
  • 927100 quintals of rice (Coarse)
  • 9657290 quintals of potato

Alternatives to privatization of Ganga and meeting Delhi's water needs (1)

At present Delhi has allocation of waters from the Yamuna, the Ganga and the Beas (Bhakra project), in addition to ground water resources, with the total availability, as follows:

Water Source Allocated Useable
Yamuna 0.724 BCM 0.500 BCM
Beas 0.2464 BCM 0.1724 BCM
Ganga 0.1800 BCM --
Treated sewage 0.100 BCM --
Ground water Govt. wells
0.012 BCM
Private wells
0.010 BCM
Total 0.9645 BCM

The above capacity can be reinforced through the following means:

  • Flood plain reservoirs at Wazirabad. Barswal. Badapur. Nala Mandela and at Nizamuddin bridge providing additional 0.168 BCM.
  • Rain water reservoirs at Tilpat/ Tughlakabad 0.010 BCM
  • Reservoirs in the NCR at Najafgarh Jheel and Hindon-Ganga bed with the capacity 0.285 BCM.
  • Harvesting in existing tanks and wells to the extent of 0.010 BCM
  • Revival of dried up streams (through afforestation) of Delhi with capacity 0.015 BCM
  • Increased ground water output in government and private wells due to better recharge of aquifers through greater flow in River Yamuna, yielding additional 0.033 BCM
  • Greater output of treated sewage-of higher quality in 9 eco-parks designed by Paani Morcha to the extent of additional 0.500 BCM.

It can be seen that the above measures would yield an additional 1.011 BCM of usable clean water, giving Delhi sufficient waters to meet its increased requirements of the next century and obviating the need to bring Tehri dam waters to Delhi.

Water Liberation

Water Liberation Declaration

Activists from around the world met at Navdanya's organic farm on December 16th, 2001 to develop national and global strategies to defend water as a collective community commons, and drafted the Water Liberation Declaration. The Declaration has over five hundred signatories.

Water Liberation Declaration

Water is life. It’s a gift of nature. The access to water is a natural and fundamental right. It is not to be treated as a commodity and traded for profit. People shall have the right to freedom from thirst, and shall have adequate access to safe water for all of their living needs.

Experiences all over the world reveal quite convincingly that water which is “life” is being privatized and brought under corporate control. This will deprive the people of water lifeline for survival. All the water resources should be owned, controlled, managed and utilized by local communities in their natural setting.

We the people from all over the world will not allow our waters to be made a commodity for profit.

We will work together to liberate water from corporate/private agencies, control and return it to the people for common good.

We demand that governments all over the world should take immediate action to declare that they accept waters in their territories a public good and exact strong regulatory structure to protect them.

On the eve of Independence Day, 15th August 2002, the Indian people have resolved to defend the real freedom -- the freedom of access and rights to their own resources - Land, Water and Biodiversity. Movements gathered in Delhi committed themselves to shut these water theft units and rejuvenate alternatives. In the Resolution issued at this occasion they said, "Water is the essence of life. Its marketization is unacceptable to us. We reject the anti-people water policy. We will fight intrusions of all sorts of companies, national or multination, at every level with all our might".

The Water Liberation Campaign (Jal Swaraj Abhiyan) which had already organized a study tour of farmers from Tehri in Uttaranchal to Delhi for World Water Day is committed to stop the water theft by global water corporations in the name of public private partnership.

Specific demands to the Delhi Government are

  • Make the contract with the Suez-Degrémont public
  • Organize a public hearing on the full cost of water treatment plant at Sonia Vihar, including cost for both backward and forward linkages.
  • Let the public through a democratic process fix the cost that Suez-Degrémont must share to pay compensation to the displaced people of Tehri and the farmers who will loose their land in and around Muradnagar in U.P.
  • The government of Delhi must ensure that:
    a. Water for sustenance which is 50 liters per day is available as a basic right to all.
    b. Higher use can be charged higher taxes.
    c. A ceiling must be put on water use so that there is no wastage of scarce water resources.
  • If hidden cost of bringing water from Tehri to Delhi are not being internalized for the operation of the Suez-Degrémont plant and water delivery in Delhi, the Delhi government should give up the project and develop lower cost conservation based water system which have been proposed by many citizens organizations.

The water liberation movement will continue to carry out independent studies and continue to do public awareness to ensure that water is not stolen from the rural poor and sold to the urban elite through water markets under the control of water giants like Suez.


Navdanya is a programme to conserve agricultural diversity. It places the farmer at the center of conservation and empowers to take control over the political, ecological and economic aspects of agriculture

Navdanya means nine seeds and these represent India's collective source of food security. It connotes a diverse ecological balance at every level, from the ecology of the earth to the ecology of our body.


Footnote 1. This section has been prepared by Cdr. Sureshwar D. Sinha of the Paani Morcha. Delhi, and has been taken from their website

Published in In Motion Magazine, October 20, 2002

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